Train Sim World

Our Visit to Virgin Trains

Written by: Matt Peddlesden
It's always great to get the rare opportunity to spend some time in the cab of operational trains and even better to talk to drivers and staff and get real insight into what goes in to driving them. These opportunities don't come up too often so it's exciting when they do!
On Wednesday 16th January, we started our day on a High Speed journey from Ebbsfleet International to St Pancras International, aboard a Class 395, followed by a brisk walk to London Euston where we met with a Driver from Virgin Trains who had just driven a Class 390, number 390104, in from the depot to meet us.
Boarding the train and finding seats ready for our journey to Crewe, two of us at a time were given the opportunity to ride in the cab. My journey in the cab ran from the start at Euston up to our passing point at Rugby and it was a great opportunity to experience the cab of this amazing Electric Multiple Unit at 125mph, featuring some amazing sweeping curves and "tilt" action. It's amazing how completely black the cab goes when it dives into the tunnels and then the stunning bright lights of daylight as we fly back out again!
The Driver Manager escorting us gave a rundown of controls and the various activities the driver was monitoring, as well as describing some of the train tracking tasks that are being managed by the Train Management System. Seeing the driver being in control of a train, barrelling along the railway line at 125 mph with the lives of 400 passengers in your hands, was a great example of a driver’s responsibility, which is to be firmly understood and respected.
Upon arrival at Crewe we took a short taxi ride over to the "Virgin Trains Talent Academy" where all members of train crew are trained whether they are drivers, train managers, catering staff or from any other area that is involved in commercial operation. The facility was opened on 19th March 2008 and several Pendolino cars are positioned outside the back of the facility for the team to use to practice all kinds of tasks in a real environment: an invaluable opportunity for them to practice, without taking a real train out of service.
We spent some time finding out how Virgin Trains teach their students, covering familiarisation with the trains inside and out and all the essential topics of the railway itself such as signalling.
After lunch we had the opportunity to go and take a look at the full size Pendolino train simulator. The setup is split across two rooms, one room has a kind of control centre with screens, keyboards and other devices. This allows the trainer to see exactly what's going on in the cab and to set up simulated sequences and to evaluate and guide.
In the adjoining room is a full size mock-up of a Class 390 Pendolino cab with a massive projection screen in front. Sitting in the seat feels as close as you're going to get to the real thing and having spent time on the journey to Crewe standing in the cab, it was incredible how much detail they had gone in to, to recreate the cab. The simulator is a realistic representation of a route in the Birmingham area and as I was about to find out, the graphics are honestly not what you're going to be focusing on when you’re in the driver’s seat!
I was given the opportunity to have a go at the simulator first hand after some introductions (some jumping with excitement may have been involved... I'm not sure how much I embarrassed myself on that front), and the trainer and Driver Manager proceeded to walk me through some of the features and sequences they run students through. On one occasion, I was running with the speed set at 100mph and suddenly saw something like a sheet hanging down from the bridge I was approaching, and what looked like a tree hanging over too far. I immediately applied the brakes and we dropped the pantograph to protect it and then the Driver Manager assisting me walked me through the process to raise an emergency call group on GSM-R, to advise the signaller of the situation and request line blocks to be able to inspect the train. I was given authentication codes and confirmations. In fact, just about every example that we went through involved all these kinds of abnormal sequences, whether it was a passenger alarm, a fire alarm going off or something else.
All in all, the experience in the simulator and many other discussions we had during the day really underscore the amazing skill and talent that train drivers have got and the great lengths that their training and management teams go to in order to ensure that everyone knows exactly what they need to do when things go wrong. In an average day, no driver wants to be involved in an incident but regularly going through these refresher training exercises mean that if anything does ever happen, they'll still be just as ready to cope with it quickly, professionally and as correctly as the first time they were trained in it at the start of their career.
On the return journey back to London I reflected on a fantastic day, with such a great opportunity to interact with the people who do in real life, what we create for fun in our simulators. The challenge now is to figure out how we can learn from this and continue to evolve what we create in new and exciting ways in the future.
We want to extend a huge thank you to the team at Virgin Trains Talent Academy, Crewe, for generously taking their day out to show us what they do.
Paul Jackson, our CEO, and 390104 stand side-by-side at the historic Crewe station.
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Train Sim World
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Our Visit to Virgin Trains
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